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The Telegraph

Travels down memory lane, when health and safety was of little concern

With so many holidays postponed or cancelled, there’s one travel corridor that is guaranteed to remain open: a trip down memory lane. Perhaps now is the time to sort through all those slides and prints from decades of family holidays and remind yourself what travel was like aeons ago, not just pre-Covid but before mobile phones and the internet? After all, who needs faraway lands when, as L.P Hartley wrote, ‘the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there’? If the author of ‘The Go-between’ is right, then we all have a foreign country – or several – ripe for a visit, lurking in cobwebby corners. I’ve been helping my father clear out over 50 years’ of clutter from his loft, much of it boxes and boxes of slides (mounted 35mm transparencies). There were even boxes of his father’s slides, dating back to the 1950s and silvery-shadowed glass plates from previous generations. Thankfully, my father – a former professional photographer – has a portable light box and a rather ancient viewing loupe meaning that I haven’t had to project the slides onto a wall to examine them. For days on end, I’ve hunched over a glowing briefcase with a brass magnifier pressed to my eye, peering at little plastic rectangles of colour, trying to work out if any of the people in the shots are significant. I’ve rescued dozens of family photos that I’d never come across before, pictures of my mother and father in their beautiful youth, my sister and I in natty little dogtooth duffle coats, of laughing and gurning cousins, aunts and uncles. Occasionally I’ve saved a picture from the bin purely for its vintage beauty such as a shot of holidaymakers boarding a ship in the Highlands, dated 1959. The most noticeable difference between now and then is the literal fabric of society. Everyone seems to wear wool of some kind: knitted jerseys, worsted dresses, flannel trousers, tweed jackets, felt hats, gaberdine overcoats. Even that lexicon of yesteryear fashion’s warp and weft sounds archaic now. Although by the 1950s, man-made fabrics such as nylon had been around for decades, it seems their impact on our sartorial style was limited to the barely visible; to stockings and undergarments and the occasional see-through plastic rain scarf. The days of prosaic fleeces and Gore-tex jackets are yet to come. The crowd queuing to embark and those already seated on the wooden seats on deck look, by today’s standards, as if they’re dressed for a wedding. Few people are burdened with belongings, perhaps a pair of binoculars on a leather strap or a camera in a brown leather box. Meanwhile, the cargo freight being loaded into the hold is in wooden and wicker containers, delivered on wooden barrows. Today such cargo would be in polystyrene and plastic crates delivered by fork-lift truck; and not all done within a few feet of queuing foot passengers.